Ellison Wins Despite Past Link to Nation of Islam
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
MINNEAPOLIS — State lawmaker Keith Ellison refused to let questions about his past slow down his campaign to become the first Muslim in Congress. On Tuesday, voters responded to his liberal message calling for peace, withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and universal health care. He beat three contenders in the Democratic primary in a Minneapolis-area district long dominated by his party.
“You’re not on your own,” Mr. Ellison told supporters at an Egyptian restaurant in a speech that had the call-and-response of a revival meeting. “We are with you. We do these things together, y’all, and we don’t let nobody break us apart.”
A 43-year-old criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student, Mr. Ellison overcame questions about late parking tickets, overdue taxes, and his past ties to the Nation of Islam. He has since denounced the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and was endorsed by a Minneapolis Jewish newspaper. He has also pledged to improve his personal record-keeping.
Mr. Ellison courted the liberal wing of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party by comparing himself to the late Senator Wellstone. Many voters responded to his message. Others clearly relished the chance to elect someone belonging to ethnic and religious minority groups to Congress from Minnesota for the first time; Ellison is an African-American.
Somali voters — many voting for the first time — appeared energized by Mr. Ellison’s candidacy. Election official Hashi Abdi said he had to tell several people to leave their Ellison signs outside the polling area.
“A lot of the Muslim community have a lot of sympathy for this guy,” Mr. Abdi said.
Though Mr. Ellison was the party’s endorsed candidate, the lure of the safely Democratic seat drew plenty of challengers willing to test him. In the end, though, he handily beat his closest rival, Mike Erlandson, by about 10 points. Mr. Erlandson is a former chief of staff to the incumbent, retiring Rep. Martin Sabo, and had Mr. Sabo’s support.
Mr. Ellison will be a heavy favorite in the November election, when he will face Republican Alan Fine and the Independence Party’s Tammy Lee. In the 2004 election, about seven in 10 voters backed Mr. Sabo and Democrat John Kerry for president.